New Diabetic Therapy Strengthens Bones

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Mice and men could be leading the way to unprecedented breakthroughs in the treatment of humans with diabetes. Specifically, there’s a new drug that has been lab tested and proven to reverse diabetes and obesity, with the surprising side-effect that it can also improve bone growth.

This could be fantastic news for anyone with diabetes, as current diabetes medications have an unfortunate side-effect. Drugs widely in use today help curb the symptoms of diabetes, but they also cause bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractured bones. This is particularly dangerous for people who are also obese, or are elderly, as a broken bone can mean temporary – and sometimes permanent – loss of mobility.

The discovery started with some hungry mice. Stem cell researchers Donald Phinney, Siddaraju Boregowda and Anutosh Chakraborty had learned of some genetically modified mice whose IP6KI gene had been removed with gene editing. When compared with a control group, these mice displayed fewer fat cells and increased bone cell production after being fed a high-fat diet. Based on these findings, the scientists used new mice to test a IP6KI-inhibiting drug called TNP, also known as picric acid, 2,4,6-trinitrophenol, and melinite. The drug had the same effect as the gene editing: fewer fat cells and increased bone growth while preventing diabetes all at the same time. The team knew that if this drug could be used on humans, it might prove to be revolutionary.

One hurdle that remains is developing a way to deliver TNP solely to the stem cells within human bones. TNP can block other genes in the human body, which could be problematic, so ensuring the drug reaches only the skeleton’s stem cells is critical to further developing this as a treatment for obesity, diabetes, and weakened bones. If successful, millions of people could benefit from TNP therapy.

Even more ambitious is the notion that this drug could be used to assist astronauts and other animals in space, where the effects of long-term exposure to zero-gravity can result in deterioration of strong bone tissue.

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